British Columbia

Parents, kids disgruntled about Vancouver schools' shortened recess

A recent change to recess time at the VSB has some students and parents upset because they want more break time. But one educator says making outdoor activities part of the regular curriculum is a solution worth exploring.

One educator says this is an opportunity to incorporate play into regular curriculum

Children play outside in Vancouver on Sept. 5, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Kids often mischievously answer that recess is their favourite school subject, but some parents and students in the Vancouver School District are not joking when they say they're upset about recess being shortened by five minutes district-wide at the start of this school year.

Students across the district have had their 20 minute recess shortened to 15 minutes.

The change to recess was made to accommodate changes in the mandated classroom hours set by the Ministry of Education. 

In 2016, mandated classroom time across B.C. was reduced by five hours to give teachers more time to implement the new curriculum. It was left up to each individual school district to determine how to do this. 

In Vancouver, the school board decided to extend recess to 20 minutes in order to keep the keep the school start and finish times the same. Other school districts changed start times, moved professional development days or extended the lunch break to accommodate the change. 

This year, those five hours of instructional time were re-added  — resulting in recess going back to 15 minutes. 

Rob Shindel, associate superintendent of school services at the Vancouver School Board, said the decision was made to change recess to make things less disruptive for families. 

'Doesn't really work for me'

Danielle Shearing, whose son attends Grade 5 at Strathcona Elementary, says the shortened recess negatively impacts the classroom environment.

"Many parents across the board feel our kids are not having adequate time to eat, rest and play, and those are all essential things to education and kids being able to learn properly," Shearing said. 

Grade 5 student Max Barkley says his 20 minute recess is important. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

And it's not just parents who are upset. 

Max Barkley, 9, was part of a lunchtime protest at the school that had dozens of kids chanting for more recess and lunch. He and a friend also started a petition at the school for more break time that has already garnered 200 signatures.

"It's important for me, because we can't get only 15 minutes and get all of our energy out. It doesn't really work for me and my friends like that," Barkley said. 

Incorporate play elsewhere, educator says

Hartley Bannack, a lecturer with the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, says if kids like Barkley are feeling the crunch from lack of time to move and play, they should advocate for themselves.

However, another solution is to look beyond extending recess and ask for more outdoor learning from their teachers and their schools.

Participaction Canada recommends students be outdoors or be active for at least 60 to 90 minutes with moderate to vigorous exercise per day, Bannack said, that can come through regular classroom learning. 

Hartley Bannack is a lecturer with the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

"Anything that you're doing indoors has a component that you can do outdoors and the experiential aspect of being outdoors often results in a deeper learning," he said. 

Outside of gym class, active learning can be incorporated through doing science experiments outside, going outside for art classes to study how light affects different objects or working outside for drama class. 

"There's a lot of things that can be done with motion, health and physical activity," he said.

With files from Margaret Gallagher

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